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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Miranda

by
Geoff Nicholson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Miranda



Title: The Miranda
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017
Length: 271 pages
Availability: The Miranda - US
The Miranda - UK
The Miranda - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : nicely goes, and then veers off, its path -- though too over the top in its resolution

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 14/8/2017 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "The human tendency to violence, the ubiquity of the internet, and the arrogant intrusiveness of the outside world are just some of the themes Nicholson skewers in this sophisticated satire, and indeed the book is at its best during its droll and subtle needling of contemporary American life." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Miranda is narrated by Joe Johnson, a divorced retired psychotherapist, and it begins with him moving into a new house and new life, in a pretty isolated locale: "I'm sure some people would have thought it was in the middle of nowhere, but I was delighted to be in the middle of nowhere" The novel actually begins with two preambly chapters, which suggest why Joe might be looking for a quiet, isolated life and new beginning, as he describes a project he got involved in, which was basically preparing people -- military contractors and the like -- for the eventuality of torture. It's something he eventually returns to -- how he got involved with 'the Team', and, in more detail, what led to his leaving it -- but he takes his time getting there.
       Joe is a typical Nicholson-protagonist in that he is obsessive, and he is a walker -- two of Nicholson's favorite preöccupation. In fact, Joe combines both: he becomes an obsessive walker. His property is small, but there's a nice circular path around the house -- "a circuit of exactly one hundred yards". And Joe has a plan, an ambition: he wants to walk around the earth. Semi-literally: he wants to cover the distance -- the nearly 25,000 mile circumference of the globe -- but he's going to do that in his backyard. 25 miles -- 440 laps -- a day, for a thousand days.
       Yes, The Miranda is a novel about a man going around in circles. Joe is pretty withdrawn: he offers some recollections of earlier days, when he led a more active life, but now he basically just wants to stay home, and walk in his yard. He doesn't even like going out to do his shopping, and soon has hired someone to do it for him.
       Joe isn't entirely isolated. There are the friendly neighbors on either side of his property, and then the antagonistic riffraff that move in out back, all of whom Joe occasionally interacts with. There's mailman Darrell, offering occasional Buddhist wisdom (and, eventually, an actual Buddha). There are the occasional telephone calls with former wife Carole -- though Joe tries to keep her at some distance. And there's Miranda, the assistant who does his shopping.
       Miranda has ambitions to become a bartender, and she wants to practice her skills -- and blend a signature cocktail (to be called: 'The Miranda' ...). Joe accepts her suggestion that she work on that on her visits, with Joe as helpful drinking/tasting guinea pig as she tries to perfect her breakthrough cocktail.
       Cocktail tasting, the occasional teaching moment for the neighbor's kid, and then making sure the riffraff get what's coming make for diversions, but Joe is very much focused on his walking, and that's what he spends most of his days doing. Just in his backyard, just going in circles.
       Joe is pretty much a picture of calm and self-control. He can take action when he has to, but he's deliberate and careful; he limits his interactions with others but mostly maintains civility (though the riffraff require and deserve a harsher tone and approach). Almost exactly halfway through the novel, however, Joe lets slip -- just to the reader -- that there was more to his divorce than him and Carole drifting apart, and that there's a good reason he has isolated himself in the way he has, and prefers to keep a low profile. There's something in his tortured past that he's worried might catch up with him, and though for a while it isn't clear whether he's worried about personal demons or more tangible human ones, it turns out he does have good reason to worry.
       Joe eventually tells more of his backstory, and he gets to the pivotal event which continues to haunt him. Eventually, it all comes to a head, with more distant but also proximate past all coming together -- crowding into his house, even ..... It's a somewhat amusing climax, elaborately orchestrated -- albeit somewhat artificially so, as Joe turns out not to have been entirely aware of a lot of the things (and true identities of the people) around him. It's also pretty ugly, in a stomach-churning way: if what Joe experiences is somewhat understandable, some of the other fates -- though resolved more quickly -- seem excessive.
       The Miranda is, in some ways, a book about torture, and Nicholson's treatment of the subject-matter, especially in Joe's mostly calm and distanced -- almost clinical, often -- reflections on and descriptions of it manage both to get very close to the awfulness of the subject, while also conveying the ease with which people and organizations come to accept it. There's an almost cavalier attitude towards it, in part -- arising also out of the same rationalization that led Joe into getting into the business, as, in some spheres, it's almost a fact of life, something hopefully avoided, but always a possibility to be prepared for. Of course, Joe's futile attempts at escape, at moving beyond what he was involved in -- he literally goes around in circles, day after day -- is a nice touch. But the abruptness and excessiveness of the body-littered conclusion -- involving practically everyone (including the Buddha-statue, if not the kitchen sink) -- undermines much of what Nicholson had carefully built up until then.
       The Miranda is a thoroughly engaging read. Nicholson does low(est)-flame tension -- where almost nothing seems to happen, Joe just walking, or being kept from his appointed rounds by minor interruptions -- very well, and quirkiness too. There's a surprising amount of conflict in the novel, especially in various forms from the neighbors, but also a meditative calm: a sense of menace or even threats -- including of violence -- but mostly, until the end, fairly simple, low-key resolutions. There's little waste here, too: Nicholson takes his time in building up his the story, but even insignificant-seeming details and exchanges play a role in later pay-offs -- though arguably, there's a bit too much of that here, in some of the overly elaborate plans of those concerned.
       The Miranda is a good read, but it does leave a bit of a sour taste -- though less on account of the tortured parts than the other carnage.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 November 2017

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Links:

The Miranda: Reviews: Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in London and Los Angeles.

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© 2017 the complete review

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